Samskaras are an important element in the belief and practice of the Hindu religion. The word samskar is evolved from the root 'samskri' which means to purify or form thoroughly. Samskriti meaning "civilization" and Sanskrit are derived from the root 'samskri'. Samskrit was considered the most refined and grammatically perfect language compared to other regional languages in ancient times. The best rendering of samskara in English is made by the word "sacrament," meaning "religious ceremony or act regarded as an outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace." Sacrament also means "confirmation of some promise or oath; things of mysterious significance, sacred influence and symbol." For the Hindu, life is a sacred journey; impurity is inherently attached to the pre-natal stage of birth. Samskaras are analogous to stepping-stones guiding the path to purification. In the completion of each samskara an individual becomes closer to susamskrit meaning refined or civilized. Samskaras exist to, among others, mark major biological and emotional stages, each consecrated through sacred ceremony. Samskaras also empower spiritual life within the individual, preserve religious culture and establish conscious adherence to the devotional duties prescribed by the gods. Samskaras are thought to operate in two ways: they remove evil, and generate fresh desirable qualities. To quote Max Muller, the emphasis placed upon these ceremonies by the ancients disclose "the deep-rooted tendency in the heart of man to bring the chief events of human life into contact with a higher power, and to give to our joys and sufferings a deeper significance and a religious sanctification. Following the path of the samskaras leads to living a life in accordance with the principles of dharma. The general idea of the samskaras is that their practice surrenders the human soul to the service of god. Atri writes, "By birth every one is a shudra, by samskars he becomes a Dvija (twice-born). By learning, he becomes a Vipra and by realizing Brahman, he attains the status of a Brahmana." Symbolism has a significant role in the performance of samskaras, as it does in the entirety of the Hindu religion. Both materialistic and action based symbols are abundantly obvious in each samskara, and too numerous to mention. Examples include the use of Audumbar branches, or fig branches, which stand for prosperity. The vatu (student) at upanayana and the bride at a wedding instructed to stand on a rock signifying stability and firmness. Touching of the heart in upanayana between teacher and student and in marriage between bride and groom, indicates residence of God and virtues of love and harmony. Mass of rice indicates abundance and prosperity. Eating together means fusion of hearts, grasping the hand (panigrahana) indicates assumption of responsibilities. The standard sixteen samskars laid down by Hindu religious texts are: 1.
Pumsavana (Ensuring birth of a male child)
Jatakarman (Ceremony on birth)
Namakarana (Naming ceremony)
Niskramana (Taking the child out)
Annaprashana (First solid food-feeding)
Chudakarana (Tonsure; removing impure hair)
Karnavedha (ear piercing ceremony)
Vidyarambha (Teaching alphabets)
Upanayana (Munji, initiation)
Vedarambha (Higher studies)
Kesanta (First shaving of the beard)
Samavartana (Completion of studies)
Antyeshti (Last or funeral rites)
The Garbhadana, or the conception ceremony, is the point at which a mother will ask the deity's for the ability to conceive a "good" son. Procreation, more appropriately the birth of a son, is believed to repay a Hindu's debt to their ancestors, which exists to encourage continuance of the family lineage. The Pumsavana is performed during the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th month of pregnancy wishing for a son to be...
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